Pushing the Limits

Josh Sahley On How Award-Winning Monkeyhead Used C4D To Create Three Very Different Spots

Six years ago, LA-based Monkeyhead started out humbly with just a couple of clients. Today, the award-winning motion design house works regularly on high-profile projects for Disney, HBO, Red Bull, ABC, Fox Films and others. "It’s been a steep learning curve," says Josh Sahley, Monkeyhead’s founder and creative director, "but it’s been worth it. If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have started Monkeyhead,” he jokes. “But once you go in, you can’t stop.”

To create the cartoon look of the Red Bull Flugtag Tampa Bay spot, the Monkeyhead team experimented with Sketch & Toon, textures, painterly effects and layering.

Thriving under pressure, plus a desire to push creativity to its limits are the main drivers behind everything Monkeyhead does, Sahley says, pointing to three recent projects for which they used MAXON’s CINEMA 4D: Red Bull Flugtag Tampa Bay, ABC Family’s 13 Nights of Halloween specials, and Red Bull’s The Transit Chapters.

Monkeyhead’s founder, Josh Sahley, is a self-taught artist whose experience working in Los Angeles production houses inspired him to start his own motion-design company.

“We work with people all over the country and CINEMA offers us the flexibility we need to easily import and export models and different file types,” he explains. “That way, we’re able to put our time into the main things we really want to focus on: pacing, design, modeling, texturing and giving each project a couple of extra passes of detail that make it stand out and be a little more unique than a regular job.”

Flying Machines

Having worked on promos and show openers for Red Bull flugtags in the past, Monkeyhead was well prepared to create something wild and wacky for the flugtag in Tampa Bay. Red Bull has been sponsoring flugtag competitions around the world since 1991, and at every event, people create elaborate flying machines that inevitably crash in short order. After getting the blueprints of their aerodynamically challenged vehicles approved, the contestants build their inventions and then literally roll them out in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans right off of a pier into the water below.

For Red Bull Flugtag Tampa Bay, everything from storyboards to animation was created in C4D and polished in After Effects. “You couldn’t involve CINEMA 4D more on a project if you wanted to,” says Sahley.

The fast-paced flugtag opener starts with a blueprint that quickly morphs into a fully realized craft. To get the cartoon look, Sahley and his team experimented with different textures, painterly effects, Sketch & Toon treatments and layering. “Once we nailed a good combo, it was all about jumping into CINEMA from there to build everything,” he explains, adding that MoGraph made it easy to create many elements, including all of the palm trees that line the streets in the spot. Compositing was done in After Effects.

Extreme Sports

For the extreme sport show, The Transit Chapters, Monkeyhead’s team was asked to create an opening spot that captured the energy and feel of the New York-based program’s surroundings. To do this, they used the urban grid and made a subway map come alive in an imaginative way.

Using C4D and After Effects, Monkeyhead’s team created a stylized blend of 2D and 3D elements and photo-real scenes. Set to a pounding beat, the result is a captivating roller coaster-like ride into the rarified world of extreme sports. Their work on the demanding and fun project won Monkeyhead a BDA gold award for Best Sports Open and an Emmy for Best Historical/Cultural Show.

Monkeyhead used the C4D to After Effects connection to streamline the compositing of various videos and green-screened live action.

The urban grid comes alive in Monkeyhead’s spot for The Transit Chapters.

Halloween Spooks

For some studios, working on the challenging ABC Family Channel’s Halloween graphics package would have been a nightmare. But Monkeyhead thought it was “a blast,” Sahley recalls. Challenging from the start, the project began with Monkeyhead offering several different looks for what was essentially a full rebrand of the channel for the month of October.

Both CINEMA 4D and Maya were used to create the challenging Halloween graphics package for ABC Family Channel.

As often happens, the client liked several of them, so Sahley and his team had to find a way to tie all those unrelated ideas together creatively, despite a very tight deadline. The solution was to use both Maya and C4D. “CINEMA is good for mixing and matching some of the other program's elements that you may need, so you’re not limited to just one approach,” he says. 

A good example of Monkeyhead’s attention to detail, despite a rapidly approaching deadline, was their creation of the spindly, spooky trees. They made it unique. Using a stock model of a basic tree, they began by removing all of the branches and leaves and restructuring and shaping bare limbs one by one. Heavily detailed bark textures and strong displacement maps were used to create noticeable depth and a fun, spooky feel for the end result.

To make the skeletons’ bones look old and crusty, Monkeyhead created subtle cracks and creases using a variety of different texture maps, as well as displacements. Custom modeling enabled them to get larger-scale details on the bone surface.

Rather than relying on motion capture, Monkeyhead artists opted to hand animate the dancing skeletons. Sketch & Toon was used to outline several skeletons in order to give them more of an edge and make them pop. “We rarely do motion capture, and we have a really talented crew who like to challenge themselves,” Sahley explains. “So, with all of the refined character animation tools CINEMA has now, our artists can just focus on what they want to do with the characters and not worry about how to do it.”


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Article by Scott Strohmaier

Scott Strohmaier is a writer living in Los Angeles with his wife and son.


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